George Meredith, The Egoist: Ch. 27

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CHAPTER XXVII

AT THE RAILWAY STATION

Clara stood in the waiting-room contemplating the white rails of the rain-swept line. Her lips parted at the sight of Vernon.

"You have your ticket?" said he.

She nodded, and breathed more freely; the matter-of-fact question was reassuring.

"You are wet," he resumed; and it could not be denied.

"A little. I do not feel it."

"I must beg you to come to the inn hard by—half a dozen steps. We shall see your train signalled. Come."

She thought him startlingly authoritative, but he had good sense to back him; and depressed as she was by the dampness, she was disposed to yield to reason if he continued to respect her independence. So she submitted outwardly, resisted inwardly, on the watch to stop him from taking any decisive lead.

"Shall we be sure to see the signal, Mr. Whitford?"

"I'll provide for that."

He spoke to the station-clerk, and conducted her across the road.

"You are quite alone, Miss Middleton?"

"I am: I have not brought my maid."

"You must take off boots and stockings at once, and have them dried.
I'll put you in the hands of the landlady."

"But my train!"

"You have full fifteen minutes, besides fair chances of delay."

He seemed reasonable, the reverse of hostile, in spite of his commanding air, and that was not unpleasant in one friendly to her adventure. She controlled her alert distrustfulness, and passed from him to the landlady, for her feet were wet and cold, the skirts of her dress were soiled; generally inspecting herself, she was an object to be shuddered at, and she was grateful to Vernon for his inattention to her appearance.

Vernon ordered Dr. Corney's dose, and was ushered upstairs to a room of portraits, where the publican's ancestors and family sat against the walls, flat on their canvas as weeds of the botanist's portfolio, although corpulency was pretty generally insisted on, and there were formidable battalions of bust among the females. All of them had the aspect of the national energy which has vanquished obstacles to subside on its ideal. They all gazed straight at the guest. "Drink, and come to this!" they might have been labelled to say to him. He was in the private Walhalla of a large class of his countrymen. The existing host had taken forethought to be of the party in his prime, and in the central place, looking fresh-fattened there and sanguine from the performance. By and by a son would shove him aside; meanwhile he shelved his parent, according to the manners of energy.

One should not be a critic of our works of Art in uncomfortable garments. Vernon turned from the portraits to a stuffed pike in a glass case, and plunged into sympathy with the fish for a refuge.

Clara soon rejoined him, saying: "But you, you must be very wet. You were without an umbrella. You must be wet through, Mr. Whitford."

"We're all wet through, to-day," said Vernon. "Crossjay's wet through, and a tramp he met."